John A Calarco

Canada Research Chair in Neuronal RNA Biology

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
University of Toronto
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


Research involves

Using biology, proteomics, genomics and advanced computer and imaging methods to uncover the molecular processes involved in brain cell development.

Research relevance

This research will provide a deeper understanding of how the nervous system is built, and could lead to new regenerative medicine therapies to repair damaged tissue.

A Molecular View of Brain Cell Development

For decades, the idea that genetic information flows inside our cells from DNA to proteins through instructions carried and delivered by RNA has been the fundamental basis of molecular biology. But modern science has enabled us to learn much more about the molecular processes that regulate RNA and gene expression—and gain insight into human development and disease.

As Canada Research Chair in Neuronal RNA Biology, Dr. John Calarco is merging the fields of RNA biology and neurobiology to better understand how our nervous system is built. Using both advanced and traditional molecular approaches, he’s changing the way we think about how neurons (specialized brain cells) grow, develop and function.

Specifically, he and his research team are focusing on post-transcriptional control of RNA—a critical part of gene expression that happens after the information carried by RNA has been transcribed from DNA, affecting how our cells are regulated to become one type or another. By establishing new techniques for using the tiny roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as a model nervous system, he and his team are able to study these processes in relation to neuron development. With advanced microscopy, computer methods and imaging, they are able to analyze the vast amounts of data collected in this field to form a clearer picture of how nervous systems develop and work.

Calarco's long-term goal is to extend discoveries in the roundworm to mammalian cells. This could one day provide personalized treatments to regenerate and repair damaged tissue in patients in Canada and around the world.